Thursday, November 10, 2005
Battle of the Wal-Mart Documentaries
Thanks to documentary filmmakers such as Michael Moore, Errol Morris, Andrew Jarecki, Morgan Spurlock, Jeffrey Blitz and Luc Jacquet, documentaries are now, more than ever, mainstream interests of movie-goers (no longer regulated to small arthouses and independent movie theaters). Of particular interest seem to be films that don't simply document but actually advocate a change for the better, especially when it relates to U.S. corporations. (Witness Bowling for Columbine's ability to have K-Mart remove bullets from its shelves, or Supersize Me's success in pressuring McDonalds to eliminate its larger-sized meal options.) Now, filmmaker Robert Greenwald -- best known for tackling the Fox News Channel in his film Outfoxed and taking on the Bush administration in Unprecedented -- is shining an unfavorable spotlight on Wal-Mart in his documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, The film debuts this month with an ambitious grassroots distribution plan which includes hundreds of DVD premieres at house parties, churches and universities across the country. For more information go to www.walmartmovie.com. In a preemptive move to counter expected controversy from Greenwald's film, Wal-Mart announced a more affordable health-care plan for its 1.6 million employees and called for an increase in the minimum wage. (Ironically, this was done as news came that Wal-Mart also wants to initiate a new plan to hire only healthy employees, in an effort to keep its medical insurance cost down.) Concurrently, Wal-Mart also distributed a press release highlighting the most negative film reviews in Greenwald's career and promoted the release of a lesser-known documentary by independent filmmakers Ron and Robert Galloway entitled Why Wal-Mart Works: And Why That Drives Some People C-R-A-Z-Y. The pro-Wal-Mart film will be available in Barnes & Noble, Borders and other retailers (but not at Wal-Marts) the middle of this month. The Galloways have admitted in interviews that they timed the release of their film (www.whywalmartworks.com) to coincide with the media attention being given to Greenwald's movie. Communities are often divided when a Wal-Mart opens in their area, some arguing that the large store creates more jobs and offers them deeply discounted items, while others deride the store for forcing smaller businesses in the neighborhood to fold and then taking advantage of low-paid labor. Perhaps Target stores can offer both films in a 2-for-1 sale? Just a suggestion.